My Friday night movie last week was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It’s one of those movies that I had seen parts of in my 20s, but had never seen it from beginning to end. Maggie Smith, who won the 1969 Academy Award for Best Actress for this role, is perfect as the unconventional Scottish private school teacher.
At first, Miss Brodie comes across as a vain, romantic, and silly woman who teaches her students about famous love affairs (as well as her own) instead of the facts of history. She brags to her students that she is in her prime, and as such has wisdom and insight they cannot begin to comprehend.
As the story progresses, we learn that Miss Brodie is not so harmless. She has a strong influence on her students, and they come to worship her (that is, all but one). Miss Brodie, in turn, takes it upon herself to decide the fate of each girl, assigning her a role in life based on her judgment of their characters. Her mistake is in grossly underestimating one of her smartest, but most “dependable,” students.
Miss Brodie leaves her married lover and takes another, while trying to manipulate the former into taking one of her older students to bed with him instead. She teaches her girls about Mussolini and Franco, leaders she greatly admires, and even encourages her students to emulate them. One foolish student is so affected by Miss Brodie’s words she tries to join Franco’s army in the Spanish Civil War, with tragic results.
It is the movie’s other strong female character – 17-year-old Sandy – who is the instrument of Miss Brodie’s undoing, at the prime of her life. Sandy is played brilliantly by Pamela Franklin who, sadly, appeared in few movies after this, other than some horror films. She also made numerous appearances in police dramas in the 1970s.
I don’t want to give away too much more about the film. The Scottish accents are delicious, the acting is first-rate, and there are a few unexpected raunchy bits, which is always fun. What’s more, the film makes me want to read the book.